Top cop hit out after Marikana

2014-01-31 19:10
Judge Ian Farlam (Picture: AFP)

Judge Ian Farlam (Picture: AFP)

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Pretoria - North West police Air Wing Commander Salmon Vermaak criticised the police's handling of the strike at Lonmin mine in Marikana, the Farlam Commission of Inquiry heard on Friday.

Vermaak wrote a memo to the provincial commissioner Zukiswa Mbombo outlining numerous flaws in the police intervention management of the strike.

The letter seen by Sapa on Friday, was part of documents received as evidence by the inquiry in Pretoria at the beginning of Mbombo's cross-examination. Mbombo took the stand on Wednesday.

The correspondence titled "Unrest: Marikana and Rustenburg: 2012", was also copied to North West provincial head of operational response services.

On the Marikana intervention, Vermaak made a long list of "shortcomings" by the police.

"Senior officers do planning without any experience in serious incidents and this causes that [the SA Police Service] afterwards [must] explain their actions. Marikana is a very good example where senior management was warned before specific actions [were] taken but they did not give attention to the advice.

"This type of ignorance put the national and provincial commissioners in a very difficult situation. Officers and members do planning without knowledge of the Gatherings Act," wrote Vermaak.

He questioned the training of the police officers who were deployed to manage the crowds of protesting miners.

"Members are not properly trained at training institutions, some of the instructors were never exposed to any of the incidents which he must lecture. There is a big difference between book knowledge and experience on the ground," wrote Vermaak.

Video footage

He said members of the public order policing unit (POP) used to be issued with video equipment and adequately trained in the use thereof, so as to have credible evidence when required.

"POP doesn't have this capacity anymore. Some of the video footage that was taken during Marikana incidents did not have any value. I never saw a commander anymore with a voice recorder when he negotiates with [protest] leaders, for reference purposes afterwards."

Vermaak also questioned the police officers' capabilities to operate State equipment, particularly vehicles.

"Members with code EC [10] were given the Nyala keys during this period [Marikana unrest] and had never had any training to operate a Nyala and that causes a lot of expenditure that was not budgeted for.

"The availability of information [intelligence] before incidents does not exist anymore. In the past, there was an information office at each unit and they managed their own informers, some were attending courses to handle the informers," wrote Vermaak.

He made several technical recommendations to Mbombo, including "going back to the basics that worked in the past".

"Reconsider the fact to issue members again with number five [birdshot) shotgun rounds instead of R5 [rifles]. I rather wound a protester with a number five shotgun than kill him with a R5 rifle."

"In the past, every section of POP was issued with only one R5 or R1 [rifle] and all other members were issued with shotguns with rubber rounds and number five birdshot. A section exists out of eight members," Vermaak wrote in the communiqu dated 12 December 2012.

Mbombo is set to be examined regarding Vermaak's letter when the inquiry resumes in Pretoria next week.

The three-member commission, led by retired Judge Ian Farlam, is probing the deaths of 44 people during the wage-related protests in Marikana.

On 16 August 2012, 34 people, mostly striking miners, were shot dead and 78 people were wounded when the police fired on a group gathered at a hill near the mine. They were trying to disperse and disarm them.

In the preceding week, 10 people, including two policemen and two security guards, were killed in strike-related violence.

On Friday, Mbombo told the commission that Vermaak "did not say the truth" in his testimony handed previously to the inquiry.

Evidence leaders head Advocate Geoff Budlender, questioned Mbombo at the public hearings in Pretoria regarding clashes between police officers and protesting Lonmin mineworkers on 13 August 2012. Five people, including two police officers, were killed on the day.

- SAPA
Read more on:    lonmin  |  police  |  ian farlam  |  marikana inquiry
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